Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Jenkin of Roding: Perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness to say something more on this issue. In a few

20 Jan 1998 : Column 1407

moments we shall deal with a group of amendments which are all directed to the same point; namely, the number of interests which need to be represented. I find it extremely difficult to put that into a context when I do not know whether we are talking about a body comprising about 20 to 25 people, which would seem to me the absolute minimum number that one might have, or something in the order of 60 to 70 people with a very broad range of interests represented.

At present, the noble Baroness seems to think that she can leave us with absolutely no idea at all as to what size of body we are talking about. The Government must have some idea in mind of the numbers. They need not commit themselves at this stage because I understand the point about consultation. I have some sympathy with the point made by my noble friend Lady Blatch that perhaps the consultation should have come before the Bill which might have been a more normal order of proceedings. However, that is not what we are dealing with. We must be told what size of body we are talking about so that we know to what extent it is reasonable to insist that it should be representative of this, that or the other. I do not believe that the noble Baroness can leave it at large as she has at the moment.

Lord Quirk: There is one respect in which it seems to me that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, is absolutely right in asking for criteria to be spelt out. We are talking about a very large profession--half a million. I refer to teachers in schools covering the period of mandatory education. But as we all know, there is the Association of University Teachers. Once the word "teaching" is used, the breadth is quite extraordinary.

Clause 1(4) states,

    "membership reflecting the interests of ... teachers [and] employers of teachers".

Therefore, surely we should know the composition of the general teaching council. What kind of teachers will be members of the general teaching council? We should have good reason to understand that "teachers" means teachers of pupils in mandatory education and "employers of teachers" means employers of such teachers, not a bunch of vice-chancellors or something.

Baroness Young: We should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for tabling the amendment. It has drawn one clear statement from the Minister; that is, that the Secretary of State is to appoint the first chief officer. That is the first concrete evidence we have had of anything at all, without making any commitment about the chairman, although I see that in the schedule we learn a bit about the chairman.

Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, that she has put all Members of the Committee in a very difficult position. I can see that it is very tedious to go over and over these points. I see that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, is not in his place but the points which he raised were very real. I am one of those who think that it would have been wiser to have gone out to consultation on all this before bringing forward a Bill. I was slightly surprised to hear the Minister say that the Government had not done that

20 Jan 1998 : Column 1408

because of the difficulty of fitting a Bill into the legislative programme. I seem to recall the words that this Government stand for "Education, education, education". Have we not heard those words? Therefore, I should not think that there would be too much difficulty fitting an education Bill into the parliamentary timetable. But that is not a matter for Members on this side of the Committee to debate.

The fact is that we are being asked to buy blind. None of us is tabling amendments to be difficult. We want a general teaching council to work, and to work effectively for the aims which we all wish to see. But it is very difficult to know what we are debating when we know nothing. We do not know the powers, their limits or who is to be on the council. My noble friend Lord Jenkin made the very important point that we do not know whether the council will comprise 20 or 100 people. We have no idea.

In those circumstances it is very difficult to be constructive and helpful. I believe that the Minister should take all this away and come back to the Committee with a much clearer picture of what we are attempting to do.

Baroness David: We are now coming to the more specific amendments which I think will give the Minister a chance to let us hear the thoughts of the Government and the Department for Education. I plead with Members of this Committee to get on with it so that we can perhaps get some answers.

Lord Harris of Greenwich: I express a mild measure of surprise at the speech made by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. She indicated her pleasure at having extracted a statement from the Minister that the Secretary of State will appoint the first chief executive. I am surprised at her pleasure because that information is to be found in the first schedule to the Bill. Indeed, if the noble Baroness had read the Bill, she would have seen that.

Baroness Young: I really do not need the noble Lord, Lord Harris, to tell me about reading the Bill. I have read it. I was making the point that I welcomed the fact that we had a clear statement on the matter. I recognise that it is in the Bill; indeed, there is also something in the Bill about the chairman. We do not need to be lectured on whether or not we have read the Bill.

Lord Harris of Greenwich: It is quite obvious that the noble Baroness made a thoroughly bad point from which she is trying to recover.

Baroness Blatch: I find what the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, has just said to be quite rude.

Lord Harris of Greenwich: Shocking!

Baroness Blatch: Indeed, if the noble Lord wishes, I shall use his own word--shocking. My noble friend was making the point that the only clear answer we have received this afternoon was one that we already knew;

20 Jan 1998 : Column 1409

namely, the one that we are just discussing. We have spent much time this afternoon pressing the Minister to answer questions and are having great difficulty in eliciting answers on certain points.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley: Perhaps I may speak briefly from these Benches and say that I should like to echo what has just been said. We must have something more concrete on the face of the Bill, although I am not sure whether that should be in the form suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Peston. Unless we do so, we are in a vacuum. I understand and applaud the consultation; but, like other Members of the Committee, I have doubts about the way that it has been done. It is certainly profoundly unsatisfactory for Members of this Chamber, and indeed for those in another place, that we are not able to get down to the concrete detail. At some point we shall really have to push for something more concrete. I certainly look forward to the debate that the noble Baroness, Lady David, indicated we are about to have on the detailed amendments.

Baroness Blackstone: I am most grateful to my noble friend Lady David for what she has said. It would be most helpful if we could move on to the more concrete amendments where it will be easier to give Members of the Committee a little more information where it is available. However, I have to keep returning to a point I have already made. I do not wish to be boring about this and keep repeating myself, but if people keep asking the same kind of questions I shall have to do so. We have made a commitment to consultation. We want to be a listening government. We want to hear what people have to say about the details. Nevertheless, there are one or two points that I can perhaps answer.

The noble Lord, Lord Quirk, raised the question of whether the provision will cover teachers who are providing only mandatory education. The answer is no. The council will certainly cover nursery teachers. It will certainly cover teachers of children and young people over the age of 16.

On the question of size, it would be quite wrong for me to specify a particular size for the council when we have said that we want to hear people's views in that respect. It might be a relatively small executive board, rather like many non-departmental public bodies, with as few as 15 members. I personally feel that that would be rather small and that it would be most difficult to get proper representation of all the parties who will want to be involved. It might be quite a substantial council in terms of its size which does represent many interests, like the Scottish GTC which has around 50 members. Alternatively, the General Medical Council has over 100 members. My personal view is that that would be too large. But, frankly, I do not think that my personal view as a Minister in the department concerned is relevant. It is most important for us to hear people's views on the matter.

I hope that Members of the Committee will accept that that is genuine. We want to have a great debate about the GTC with all of those who are interested. Indeed, part of that debate is taking place this afternoon. If people have views about the size of the council,

20 Jan 1998 : Column 1410

I hope that they will express them when we consider the more detailed amendments which are to follow. On that basis, I very much hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw the amendment so that we can move on.

Lord Peston: I thank my noble friend the Minister. I do so especially for her reassurance that our right honourable friend the Secretary of State is actually interested in our views, as well as those of other people. I am delighted to be reassured in that respect. This was a probing amendment. However, I left out one point from my notes in my opening remarks. It is an important point and one that I forgot to make. I trust that I may make it now in the hope that it will be read from the record by the Secretary of State.

Where subsection (4) refers to "the general public", I intended to add the word "independent". One of my real concerns is that the lay people should be independent of both the Secretary of State and, for that matter, our party; and, indeed, of the teaching profession. I believe that there is a role in all these professional bodies for truly independent people who can come to the task with an open mind and often say the unsayable to the professionals. That is something that I have done myself. Having said that, I thank all Members of the Committee for their contributions to the debate. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.15 p.m.

Baroness Young: moved Amendment No. 6:

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page